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The Sierras Magazine, covering the Altiplano de Granada

I currently run a magazine in the Altiplano de Granada with a friend Lorraine, I write a monthly article called the Desperate Gardener, part info part anecdote about the area we live in.

What a difference a month can make!
26 September 2008

Further to my articles for August and September 2008 the following shows how easily things can change.  

- an imaginary place of great wealth and opportunity
By a VERY Desperate Gardener
It’s been a tough summer and what started out with such promise has plummeted for me into a nightmare. On the gardening front two months of water, for only two hours a day, has meant not only a really mucky house, kids and clothes but also a garden struggling to survive. What was looking pretty lush in June is now pretty barren with a few tomato plants struggling for survival. I did manage to get some small but intensively flavoured plum tomatoes this weekend and have already made them into a sauce ready for pasta. Oh and one of the yellow pears is sprouting delicious little yellow pear shaped tomatoes - certainly lives up to it’s name. The courgette is starting to look a little more sprightly too - so maybe all is not lost.
My lovely neighbour Maria has decided to build her own bed of roses - removing half of my access - this has always been a bone of contention and one in which I have always (stupidly, it now seems) respected her wishes. I should have contested her arguments years ago but now it has become serious and potentially, financially damaging, as it hinders my access greatly - it is now not possible to get a fire engine, ambulance or even septic tank cleaner near my property and therefore when I come to selling it (see end!), it will put off potential buyers. 
In protest I parked my car as close as possible to my house, some meters away - stopped by the blocks she has put there to stop cars coming up. I said I would remove it only when she has removed her wall, the very next day her son had arrived from Altea (4hrs away - oddly enough none off her kids live nearby, I am now beginning to see why!). So 8:55 on a Sunday morning (I’m still in my nighty) I hear Windy, Windy at my gate (a familiar sound), can I not have one lie in a week!   
Her son is there at my gate wanting to talk to me, I was actually quite pleased as I thought sense would prevail and he would understand why I was upset. I said the same thing to him, I’ll move my car if you move the wall - before I knew it the Guardia Civil were there making me move my car. I felt very helpless and in hind sight I should have pleaded ignorance and requested a translator, I ended up getting very angry as I felt under attack and when you are trying to get across how you are feeling in another language it becomes very difficult.
Once they had gone, I asked Maria why she had built the wall and all she could say was that she wanted easier access to her roses. She is in her seventies and has lived there all her life, why now? I then said to her son if he lived in my house and that had been built, would he find it acceptable - he couldn’t give me an answer - I must admit in my anger I did say I thought he would have the intelligence to acknowledge my upset - and understand my reasoning - I said that obviously he was not the intelligent man I thought he was! At one point he did try and persuade Maria to move the wall but she was having none of it. It also turned out she has no permissions so guess where she was off to the next morning with a smug look on her face.
It has now come down to a legal issue which means denuncia and a decision for the courts. I can’t afford it but equally I can’t let her get a way with it without a fight.
I read an article recently in eye on spain about why people move back.
This is the first time I have really thought that I would probably prefer not to be living here. But with things how they are in the UK, where would we go? My husband is going to the UK next month to try and find work and I must admit my feelings are very much that if he can get a job there, I will be on the next plane home to follow him - no easy task with 4 kids in tow!
I thought the funny foibles of these elderly Spanish quite quaint when I first moved here, living 50 years behind was quite appealing. But I have had other issues - like not being allowed Iberbander by my entire neighbourhood for fear of cancer! And I suppose this has made me realise that I am now ready to move back into the real world - with all it’s problems.

September 26th 2008
 I am hoping my problem is going to be resolved soon.  I went to see the townhall a week ago and a very understanding mayor immediately sent up the local police and architect to look at the offending wall.  Via a contact there I was told that a letter was going to be sent to her to either remove the wall or the townhall would do it for her and she would have to pay.  Imagine my surprise yesterday when I returned home to find the posts had been removed and it looked like the wall was also going to be removed!  I am still going to pursue a legal right of way as I don't think Maria will just let it go with out a fight.

What I find very sad is that the relationship my family and I had with Maria has been ruined and unlikely to ever go back to how it was before.  There is now an atmosphere everytime I leave my house and have to walk passed her which is a real shame as I enjoyed our daily chats as I'm sure she did too.

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How we ended up in Castril
26 September 2008

It New Year over time 4 years ago that my husband and I made the decision to move to Spain. Some people would probably call us flighty and impetuous. I’d rather call us spontaneous and a little whimsical! It seems that when we make a decision to do something we don’t sit and think about it for years, but just go ahead and do it. Most of our major decisions in life are made quite rapidly. At 5 months pregnant I made a passing comment to my then boyfriend, about marriage. Three weeks later we eloped to Newton Abbot and I became Mrs Newell. We didn’t even have enough money to buy our wedding rings. I had to give some story to my brother to loan me the money!
I suppose having two sets of parents living in Spain helped, both lived on the Costa Blanca within 30 minutes of each other and at this point our spontaneity had resulted in 4 kids, so grandparents nearby would be great. We came to Spain for a weeks holiday for New Year and headed to Baza to view some property, I must admit at this point to being a little disheartened as with our miniscule budget we would be lucky to get a ruin with electricity about 5 km’s away. But hey if we let all the negatives get in the way we would probably still be in our very nice, large terraced house in Brighton, with central heating and double glazing instead of here, in a falling down Cortijo with a chimney that smokes - inside not out!
On our return to Brighton, I spent two weeks painting my house, I was a big fan of ‘How to sell your house and get the most money for it’ type programmes and I must admit the effort paid off. The house went on the market on the Wednesday and by Saturday we had two offers for the asking price. Our only stipulation was that we had to complete within 8 weeks.   Roxy, my youngest, was only 3 months old and I was in the middle of a garden design and horticultural course which I was determined to finish. Things were therefore a little manic. I wanted the move to be quite cathartic, the only real thing I wanted to take was my sofa which 4 years ago I really loved, now, I could take it or leave it! This was probably our biggest mistake. We practically gave everything a way and in hindsight we should have bought it all with us. Our finances were going to struggle to fund furnishing a new house. But I’m not proud and actually have managed to acquire most of my furniture from next to skips (people throw some really good stuff away) and other peoples’ cast-offs! I think I had a reputation where my mum and dad lived as a charity case, as people kept giving us stuff!
On Thursday 11th of March 2004, I walked out of my RHS exam halfway through, thinking, shit! The completion on my house takes place tomorrow, I have a million and one things to do and here I am taking an exam that I haven’t really studied for, a house that needs sorting and cleaning and a move to a new country on Monday with my four kids. My husband Ross, was taking our people carrier on the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry stuffed full, the following evening, so we had to get that ready too. The funny thing is I passed the exam, which to be honest is actually quite ludicrous. My life cycle of an aphid, which oddly enough my lecturer had only gone through the day before, must have made some sense!
We arrived in sunny Spain at Alicante airport to rain, and more rain, in fact I think it rained almost solidly for 6 weeks. My parents have an under build and we could stay there indefinitely until we had found somewhere to buy.
I have a very good relationship with my parents and they were very patient but with 4 kids being very noisy and chaotic we felt the need to move as soon as possible.
At this point my spontaneity almost got the better of me. We saw a house that was slightly over budget in the middle of no where but with lots of land, I got swept away by estate agent talk and managed to convince Ross that we should go for it. We handed over our 10% deposit and took our parents to see it. That night my mother didn’t sleep due to crying with absolute fear and horror at what we were about to buy. Believe me it wasn’t that bad, it had a lot of potential but in hindsight, we couldn’t have afforded it and by some stroke of luck, the sellers (two brothers) fell out over it, one wanted to sell and one didn’t, the downside was that they had refused to take the deposit so we only got that back and not double which is normally the case if the seller pulls out, which would have been a nice little bonus!
Because of our limited budget, we had to start looking much further a field, I was hesitant about moving too far away from my parents but financially we had no choice. We looked in the Ricote valley and quite liked it there, we even came as far as Castillejar and that area but it seemed so far. A month or two down the line we were feeling a little frustrated so we contacted the Ricote Valley agent and they sent us a more extensive list of the areas they covered, the Mula region was one area and on the very back page the Altiplano de Granada was listed, I think at that time there were 6 or 7 properties of which 2 or 3 were in our budget. We booked to see property in the Altiplano on the Friday and Mula on the Monday. I must admit I do love looking round property, those descriptions are so misleading, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen etc, could be lived in, yeah right, if you use your imagination and 100 K converting it!
We arrived in Huescar with Roxy in tow, on a dull and wet May day. Bad mother that I am, was totally unprepared for the changeable weather, as on the coast it was roasting. The one property in Huescar in our budget had just been sold, so after a very nice tour of the area we headed towards Fatima, a quick look at some new builds, very nice but not my cup of tea, I really wanted something I could put my mark on, although Ross could have moved in straight away, my husband, don’t like mess! We headed towards Castril and what would eventually be our house. To be honest it was the view that sold it to us, I think we had bought it in our heads without seeing inside. The fact that it was 15 thousand less than anything else we had seen and had a bathroom which was a bonus!   Ok you had to go outside to use it, but a bathroom, running water and electricity! More than we had hoped for and we hadn’t even seen Castril, knew nothing about the area, what the schools were like (I told you, bad parents). We still had our deposit from the last house, in cash, in my bag. Yes I know, sometimes stupidity and spontaneity go hand in hand. Look I was desperate, I wanted a house, in fact I literally chucked the money at them. We did all the things you shouldn’t do, and the worst thing, knowing we were doing it. 
My house, two and a half years down the line, is slowly getting there. I laboured on a couple of building sites for a year, needs must and all that, I’m now a dab hand at mixing cement and a reasonably proficient bricklayer. I will put my hand to anything if it means I don’t have to pay anyone else to do it. What makes it difficult is having kids running around, especially if your tiling in front of the only entrance to the bathroom! If it says ‘Needs reform but could be lived in’. Don’t!!!!!

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26 September 2008

September's issue of The Sierras

Last night I was chatting to my neighbour Maria, while trying to locate Otis (8) who had disappeared somewhere up the mountain and as it was getting dark I was a little worried - one of the positives I suppose to living here, the fact that my kids can go off and play and I don’t have to be too concerned.
As always the worries of the world were discussed, her sons’ many of them builders (she has 9 kids in total) work at the coast and are feeling the current situation - with very little future work in sight. For Maria, whose life has probably been the same for the last 70 years or so, nothing much changes. She still spends, pretty much, every minute of everyday working either on her land, feeding her animals or caring for her very poorly husband. If she was to stop working I think her body would give in just from the shock. 
Possibly one of her biggest changes was when we moved in with 4 kids creating havoc all over the place, after years of no neighbours. We have had our ups and downs, issues with access and boundaries (there’s a surprise!) etc.
But I always enjoy chatting to her (ok I probably only understand a 10th of our conversations but with words and actions we get by) and I was amused to hear her enthusiasm in the size of her pumpkin. My husband had bought some giant pumpkin seeds in the hope that by October we would have a pumpkin for Halloween, not that we celebrate it particularly but it would be fun for the kids. Many of our surplus plants got passed onto Maria which she took on with much enthusiasm and success it seems. She couldn’t stop chuckling at the wonder of this huge pumpkin, showing me with wide spread arms how big it was getting - I just hope it lives up to its size in taste! And certainly makes a change to the bog standard calabacin she normally grows.
It made me think about the little changes that we unknowingly bring with us. I can almost guarantee that Maria will save some seeds and next year will be growing more huge pumpkins. It also made me realise how much knowledge she has through her experiences, my successes are few and far we get tons of flowers and the odd pumpkin starts to form but the lack of water (and probably shade) makes them shrivel up and die. And I think any hope of a Halloween pumpkin is unlikely. Maybe Maria will give us one of hers!
No two years seem the same, this year there seem to be an abundance of potatoes, Maria has 26 sacks and my other neighbour has convinced me to buy a couple of theirs. I kind of got railroaded into it and my claims (genuine) of being skint fell on deaf ears, no pasa nada, pay when you can. I have been ensured they will last until May with a little sprinkle of something called conservapatatas - I suppose you can never have enough potatoes, mine will probably only last until November and I will be wishing I had bought more.
We have cherry tomatoes coming out of our ears (the other varieties we shall wait and see), everyday I get a handful which is great as the kids eat them like sweets. Great with pasta but if you have a glut of tomatoes try this oven-dried tomato recipe. I know you can sun dry them but having seen the Spanish dry their tomatoes there seems to be a little problem in the shape of a fly! On that note although we had a huge number of flies at the beginning of the summer, spraying AGITA has made a massive difference - I put some in a small spray bottle with water and if I see them increasing give the area a spray and it seems to work for weeks - the only evidence is the odd fly, break dancing to its death minutes later. I don’t see myself as cruel but it is a very satisfying sight!
Cherry tomatoes
1 to 2 tablespoons salt
Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. (93 degrees C.)
Line a large baking sheet with foil. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally and arrange them cut side up on the baking sheet, touching each other. Sprinkle well with salt and bake in the over for 2 to 3 hours. They will shrink a bit. Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold. They become a deep red in colour with an intense flavour. Great on pizza or in salad. Store in the fridge and to re- hydrate soak in boiling water for 1/2 an hour. 
I love mixing fresh tomatoes sprinkled with salt, basil, chunks of mozzarella, sun or oven dried tomatoes (re-hydrated) and olive oil. Delicious!

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How time flies
06 August 2008

My intention when setting up this blog was to add information about the area but also to put my articles that I write in The Sierras Magazine which covers the Altiplano de Granada and also the surrounding areas.  We have just printed our 28th edition.  The articles are mainly anecdotal about my disastarous gardening abilities - but also they do give information about the climate and just generally about living in Spain.

The following went into August's edition 


I must admit I am feeling pretty pleased with our garden at the moment. Although it is an up hill struggle to get everything watered, we do for the first time, have quite a selection of fruit and vegetables growing. I admit at this moment we are only half way through the summer and it will only get hotter but I am feeling pretty content, with the contents of my vegetable patch.

I think the wonderful thing about growing any produce in your garden is the speed it appears. One day you can be pricking out those side shoots on your tomatoes (some may remember an article I wrote when the Sierras first started many moons ago called To prick or not to prick! - this year I am definitely pricking, as they went completely haywire!) and the next day as if by magic little tomatoes start to appear.
We have quite a selection this year, from yellow pear - oddly enough yellow and pear shaped, San Morenzo - lovely plum tomatoes, Brandy wine - an older variety that is supposedly the world’s finest tasting ‘beefsteak’ to Purple calabash - and I quote - “What a tomato! Quite beautiful, complex taste, rich and delicious!” All of these we have grown from seed, they all started off brilliantly but the very wet May we had proved to be a problem - many of them drowned, poor things! The failures were Gardeners delight - a type of cherry tomato and sadly, although not a tomato - jalapeno peppers - they just couldn’t take all the rain!
As back up though I still bought a selection of ready grown seedlings from the market. Possibly I hadn’t noticed last time, but there seemed quite a good variety - if you know what they are in Spanish! I asked for pequeña and sure enough there was a ‘cherri’ variety, these are doing very well with lots of little tomatoes growing. I also opted, I think, for a large ‘beefsteak’ - great for making tomato sauces, some chilli peppers - muy picante and bell peppers - I normally get given tons of the papery green thin ones - but in my house we all prefer the lovely big juicy red peppers - so fingers crossed!
What else have we got? Well the rhubarb is still holding on, we have many still in pots but the success rate in the garden has been quite good, two have been planted in my ‘inner sanctum’ and if they do survive I imagine will take over, if my memory as a child of the huge rhubarb in my granddad’s garden is correct.
Broccoli, although flooded out in May, are looking positively perky in the garden, two have even started to flower broccoli!

Our sweet corn shot out from seed almost the instant it was planted in pots. I know the Spanish grow corn or Maize for their animals and this is harvested when the kernels are dry and mature. I was told years ago that corn on the cob picked fresh off the plant was the best thing ever - sweet corn is picked when the corn is immature and eaten as a vegetable rather than a grain and is actually a mutation of field corn.
As soon as it is picked the sugars start converting into starch, therefore sweet corn stores poorly and must be eaten, canned or be frozen before the kernels become tough and starchy. I hope this is successful because in South Africa I used to eat it all the time, shop bought and that was pretty delicious, so fresh off the plant - gosh who knows, I can’t wait! Sweet corn needs to be planted in squares rather than lines for pollination and I have just read via the internet that sweet corn has a recessive gene so needs to be separate from field corn - I hope there’s none to near - imagine my disappointment if I end up with chicken food!
Beetroot! These really struggled at first, planted into the grounds as tiny seedlings that we had grown from seed, they were almost washed away and at one point seem to have disappeared completely, but as soon as the rain stopped and the sun came out, they started to flourish.
Fruit trees, well success here is limited, our quince flowered or rather tried to, until the ants got involved. Apple trees, one has two apples! The other was attacked by those pesky aphids but on a positive note I sprayed them with very diluted washing up liquid and what was looking pretty ghastly now has lots of new green growth - but alas no fruit! The pomegranate has an abundance of flowers - so only time will tell. Apricot or albaricoque - I never remember that word, is flourishing but again no fruit. Our nectarine was attacked early in the season by aphids and I thought would not survive, but again a spray of the washing up liquid seems to have done the trick and it has lots of new growth.
Strawberries fruit but we seem to have a thief in the house because before either myself or my husband manage to get one, they mysteriously disappear - Roxy (4)!!!!!!!
And finally this is what makes it all worthwhile, our lovely plum tree not only looks great but is covered in plums, all ripe for the picking. And yesterday while watering the garden, I couldn’t resist sampling one of those luscious plums, still warm from the heat of the sun, a little bit sweet and a little bit tart but absolutely delicious - sheer bliss!

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